Graduation requirement irks parent of teen volunteer

Randy Brown, right, a student at Grand Junction High School works and plays with kids in Sam Provenza’s 1st grade gym class at Tope Elem School

Grand Junction High School students, unlike any of their counterparts in School District 51, are required to contribute 30 hours of community service to get their diplomas.

That, said Mike Miller, amounts to involuntary servitude.

District 51 board members are looking into Miller’s objection and will discuss it at a yet-to-be determined board meeting.

Miller, the parent of a graduating senior who met the service-learning requirement, wants the district to eliminate the mandatory nature of what is billed as volunteer activity.

The issue, however, drew sparks when Miller asked that the board look into the Grand Junction High requirement.

By denying diplomas to students who fail to fulfill the service-learning requirement but who meet all the others, the high school is subjecting them to “withholding something of intrinsic value,” Miller said.

Grand Junction High Principal Jon Bilbo said the requirement has great benefit for the students, some of whom have contributed hundreds of hours as part of meeting their requirements.

The 340-member graduating class this year has contributed 33,000 hours of community service, said Bill Larson, executive director of high schools for the district.

The importance of community service is driven home by the requirement, Bilbo said.

“I think it’s a great program. President Obama thinks something similar,” he said. “In my view, we are giving back to the community.”

Miller has a son who will graduate this year from GJHS and met all the requirements, including service-learning, he said. Other students, however, shouldn’t be forced to volunteer in order to graduate, Miller said.

Sami Canetti, a Grand Junction High School junior, agreed.

“I don’t think we need it,” Canetti said of the requirement, which she said she has met.

Students already have enough academic pressures, she said.

The value of the experience shouldn’t be understated, said Tyler Powers, also a junior .

Powers worked with Colorado Discover Ability, an organization that deals with disabled individuals.

Working there was “a big confidence booster,” because “of how (disabled people) handle everything,” he said.

Still, service learning should be optional, Powers said, and fellow junior Shelby Hone agreed.

Students who perform service ought to be recognized with a notation on their diplomas, but the service “should be optional,” Hone said.

Grand Junction High School has had the service-learning requirement since the mid-1990s.

The district runs the risk of being sued should a student be injured or killed while meeting the service-learning requirement, Miller said.

Students are covered under the insurance of organizations at which they volunteer, board member Cindy Enos-Martinez said.


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